Race and Class in the News: How the Media Portrays Gentrification
Whether it is affordable housing, health insurance, or crime, how a social problem is associated with race and class contributes to how the general public and policymakers respond to it. The media both informs and reinforces readers’ perceptions about what happens when social processes like gentrification take place, who is affected, and whether this type of change is positive or negative. Media representations can thus influence public perception, policy framing, and local policies around urban development. This paper uses articles published between 1990 and 2014 in two San Francisco newspapers to document how the process of gentrification is described. Using text analysis and qualitative coding, I find that race and class pervade reporting on gentrification in San Francisco. Gentrification was presented as a process by which the middle-class and whites move into predominantly black and low-income neighborhoods, even though the process of gentrification in San Francisco is significantly more complex. Although the news coverage raised more concerns about gentrification than benefits overall, some neighborhoods (working-class and Latino) receive greater attention and concern than others (poor and black). The result is an oversimplified and skewed portrait of who benefits and who loses as a result of gentrification in San Francisco. This skewed portrait will likely reinforce a common perception of gentrification as a solution to social ills associated with black and poor neighborhoods such as urban disinvestment and crime, rather than a process that reduces affordable housing and displaces low-income, long-term residents.